I have a lot of Bob Dylan “Bootleg” box sets and most of them are fantastic. Listening to a live performance or an early take of a song by Bob Dylan can be genuinely uplifting. His art is in performance, not manufactured in a studio.
On the other hand, I have no idea why I buy all the box sets that The Beatles release. As much as Paul McCartney likes to state that The Beatles were “a great little band”, none of their live performances are very sophisticated. “Long Tall Sally” at The Washington Colosseum in 1964 was very exciting and “One After 909” on the rooftop in 1969 rocked nicely but the magic of The World’s Greatest Band comes from their studio magic. They worked very hard at EMI Studios to layer a refined, mature sound, using multiple takes and inventive sounds. Listening to their rehearsals may be interesting from a historical point of view, but is it enjoyable?
|Album||Release Date||Purchase Price||Current price||No. of discs||No. of new songs/different versions|
|Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band||26.5.17||£119.98||£125.70||4||33|
|Let It Be||15.10.21||£109.99||£78.93||6||45|
These box sets are not cheap and there must be better ways to spend my money. One in six British households are on social security, and almost a third of British children live in poverty. One in four households are facing financial difficulty, and almost one in ten have missed paying bills. Just reading this and looking at how I’ve frittered away my money makes me feel ashamed.
These box sets contain a huge number of new songs and different versions of familiar songs but very few of these are better than the original releases. I’ve listened to every disc once, but very few more than once. I’ve had “Revolver” for six weeks now and haven’t listened to any of it until today. It seems an extravagant waste of money. I’m going to listen to the 33 new songs now for the first time and try to fathom out why I’ve bought different versions/rehearsals/backing tracks of songs that I love and that I know inside out. These are songs that I can “sing” along to, word perfect. Although you wouldn’t want me to prove that to you.
The original album is, of course, the epitome of perfection. I bought it as soon as it was released on August 5th 1966. I was 12 years old. We were about to move from North London to Tunbridge Wells in Kent and for some reason I was alone in the house when I first played it. As I heard “I Want To Tell You” for the first time, I was lying on the floor and I heard the sound of a plane flying overhead. I said to myself that I would remember this moment for the rest of my life. And I have.
The re-release of “Revolver” consists of five discs.
|Disc 1||A remixed version of the album. There are minor differences, most of which I can’t hear.||14 songs|
|Disc 2||The original mono mix – the same as my vinyl copy.||14 songs|
|Disc 3||An E.P. consisting of four songs. A new remix of the single “Paperback Writer”/”Rain” and the original mono mix of these songs.||4 songs|
|Disc 4||“Sessions One”. Early versions of “Tomorrow Never Knows” (2 tracks), “Got To Get You Into My Life” (3 tracks), “Love You To” (3 tracks), “Paperback Writer” (1 track), “Rain” (2 tracks), “Doctor Robert” (1 track) and “And Your Bird Can Sing” (2 tracks)||14 songs|
|Disc 5||“Sessions Two”. Early versions of “And Your Bird Can Sing” (1 track), “Taxman” (1 track), “I’m Only Sleeping” (4 tracks), “Eleanor Rigby” (2 tracks), “For No One” (1 track), “Yellow Submarine” (4 tracks), “I Want To Tell You” (1 track), “Here, There And Everywhere” (1 track), “She Said, She Said” (2 tracks)||17 songs|
There is no early version of “Good Day Sunshine”. The tracks are presented in chronological order of recording. The album comes with a large 100-page book, crammed with wonderful photos and several essays.
When “The Beatles Monthly” had a poll for the readers favourite song on the album, I voted for “Tomorrow Never Knows“. It came 10th and “Here, There And Everywhere” won. I’m still puzzled by this. Yet another vote where my views differ from the majority. “Here There And Everywhere” and a Tory government get the votes. How can that be? Why can’t everybody agree with me? “Take One” on “Sessions One” is the same one that was released on “Anthology Two” in 1996. It doesn’t have the tape loops that make the final version so unique. “Mono Mix” is a mono version that sounds identical to the version on my vinyl album. It’s remains an awe-inspiring three minutes.
There is over a minute of studio discussion that precedes “Take Five” of “Got To Get You Into My Life”, which I could do without. This is a slower version with prominent organ (played by Paul McCartney) and (whisper it) out-of-tune harmonies. However, Paul McCartney’s vocal performance is extraordinary. It’s interesting to hear an early version but all it does is make me want to hear the “Revolver” version. “Unnumbered Mix” on “Sessions One” is faster and George Harrison uses a fuzz-tone effect on his guitar. It was a good decision to ditch this sound on the “Revolver” version. “Take Eight” sees the introduction of the familiar brass section but, disappointingly, this is simply an instrumental backing track. It’s interesting (but not particularly enjoyable) to hear the song without vocals.
The most striking aspect of the “Revolver” version of “Love You To” is the Indian instrumentation. “Take One” is fascinating because it consists of George Harrison’s voice and an acoustic guitar – and nothing else. I like it. “Unnumbered Rehearsal” is an an instrumental backing track of George Harrison playing sitar and Anil Bhagwat playing tabla. “Take Seven” is very similar to the “Revolver” version with some extra harmony vocals by Paul McCartney which sound superfluous – and it seems like the band felt the same way.
“Paperback Writer” is one of my favourite Beatles singles and “Takes One and Two” is an an instrumental backing track for the song. It’s interesting to listen to and Ringo Starr’s drumming is excellent. Of course.
My good friend Alex, who died in 2007, loved “Rain“, naming it his favourite Beatles song. “Take Five” is fast – this is how the song was played at the time but the “released “version was slowed down. The playing is incredible. Drums, bass, guitars – astonishing. This is a rare example of an an instrumental backing track being worth listening to. “Take Five Slowed Down” shows the song played at the speed we are used to but it also has John Lennon’s voice slowed down. It remains a fantastic song. It’s incredible how just one song can create a lifetime’s inspiration for the most successful Britpop band of the 90s.
I always liked “Doctor Robert“. Mainly because it’s a Beatles song and it’s also on “Revolver” but it would probably be down the list of my favourite songs on the album. “Take Seven” is longer than the released version with the “well well well” middle eight appearing three times which is once more than on the “Revolver” version.
“And Your Bird Can Sing” has a similar sound to “Doctor Robert” but, for some reason, is much more appealing to me. “Take Two” is a different version but almost as good as the one on “Revolver”. “Take Two (Giggling)” does what it says in the title. I’m not really sure why it’s fascinating to hear The Best Band In The World mucking about in the studio, laughing through a great track. This was also released on “Anthology Two”. “Take Five” is the first track on “Sessions Two” – it’s more earthy than the “Revolver” version and quite appealing.
I’ve seen the Bootleg Beatles many times and the first time I saw them perform “Taxman“, I suddenly realised what a great rock song it is. “Take One” is similar to the “Revolver” version except the “Taxman Mr. Wilson/Taxman Mr. Heath” backing is replaced with a very fast “Anybody got a bit of money?” which doesn’t work nearly as well.
“I’m Only Sleeping” is a magnificent song and as autobiographically honest as “My Mummy’s Dead” or anything else off John Lennon’s first solo album. “Sessions Two” contains four versions of the song, “Rehearsal Fragment“, “Take Two“, “Take Five” and “Mono Mix“. Two of these are instrumental backing tracks. “The “Mono Mix” is the version released in the U.S.A. on “Yesterday…And Today” – its main divergence from the stereo version is the placement of the backwards guitars.
One of the highlights of the box set is meant to be the two minute studio conversation (“Speech Before Take Two“) between George Martin, Paul McCartney and the eight violin/viola/cello players who appear on “Eleanor Rigby“. Paul McCartney is revealed not to know the significance of vibrato. Frankly, I don’t care and it’s not a real surprise to me to find that George Martin’s classical music training, combined with his pop sensibility was a significant factor in the genius of these recordings. “Take Two” has no vocals, showcasing the strings. Very nice but I don’t really need to ever hear it again.
The “Revolver” release of “For No One” is a work of wonder and I never tire of listening to it. I shan’t listen to “Take Ten” again as it is yet another instrumental backing track.
“In the place where I was born. No one cared. No one cared.” This plaintive vocal performance from John Lennon is astonishing and it is genuinely fascinating to realise that from this small fragment, a song that still resounds around sports stadia, 56 years later was formed. “Songwriting Work Tape – Part One” consists of just John Lennon and an acoustic guitar and in “Songwriting Work Tape – Part Two“, the lyrics have developed with input from his songwriting partner into something that now begins to sound like the “Revolver” version of “Yellow Submarine“. “Take Four Before Sound Effects“, surprisingly, has no sound effects, but, more interestingly, is at a higher pitch than the “Revolver” version (on which the tapes were slowed down). As I wrote before, the magic of The Beatles came from layering their sound and “Highlighted Sound Effects” makes this clear.
One of the essays in the accompanying booklet is by Questlove, an American musician, record producer, disc jockey, filmmaker, music journalist, and actor. He explains how he never really liked The Beatles until he heard covers by other artists. I disliked him at the start for being a late convert but by the end, I had warmed to him as his enthusiasm was infectious. He highlights a line from “I Want To Tell You” by writing that George Harrison felt both space and time stretching when he sung “I could wait forever, I’ve got time“. His essay finishes like this: “For 95% of my life I didn’t drink or smoke or do any psychedelics. The pandemic changed that. I got into mushrooms. Walt Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ is my go-to on mushrooms. As I have gotten better at it, more experienced, less nervous, I’m trying to bring The Beatles into the mix, in the form of ‘Revolver’. The one time I tried, it was a little too intense. I couldn’t quite turn off my mind, let along relax and float downstream. But it’ll happen eventually, I’m sure. I can wait forever. I’ve got time.” For some reason, that makes me a bit emotional. Take Four is an instrumental backing track.
“Here, There And Everywhere” is one of Paul McCartney’s favourite compositions. I’ve never got it. “Take Six” is, to my ears, even more cloying and sentimental than the “Revolver” version.
“Johns Demo” of “She Said She Said” is wonderful – his voice is untreated and his ability to ooze emotion and sing soulfully has never been better demonstrated than on this short extract. “Take Fifteen” is yet another instrumental backing track; the guitar playing and drumming are sensational but it needs something else – a vocal!
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2 thoughts on “Revolver Sessions One and Two by The Beatles”
The bass on Rain is sublime! And I can’t think of another song where a set of ramshackle rhythms gel together as perfectly as they do on Dr Robert. Brilliant stuff.
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